Capitol Ideas

Culture versus Economy

Conservatives prevail when the economy is the issue -- but not when it comes to what used to be called "social issues."

By From the February 2011 issue

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IN THE LAME DUCK CONGRESS, the forces of the left were unable to raise tax rates on "the rich." They will stay unchanged for two more years. But the left was able to overturn "don't ask, don't tell," the law circumscribing speech affecting homosexuals in the military.

There's a pattern here. Conservatives prevail when the economy is the issue (I omit Obamacare, which if not overturned will deliver a serious blow to the economy). But we lose when it comes to what used to be called "social issues." It seems conservatives have lost every culture-war battle since the contraceptive pill was introduced 50 years ago.

Here is a brief, recent history:

1. Speaking at the GOP convention in 1992, when George Bush Sr. was nominated, Pat Buchanan reported that we were in a "cultural war." He mentioned women in combat as something that should be resisted.

2. He was immediately accused of declaring a culture war. He was identified as an aggressor for noticing the assault that was under way.

3. Irving Kristol, the conservative commentator who died in 2009, said in 2001: "We in America fought a culture war and we lost."

4. Last November, the Family Research Council, a group in Washington that continues to mount rearguard actions in the culture war, was called a "hate group." The accusation came from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that itself bristles with hate -- hatred of the normal.

The real target of the culture war is the Judeo-Christian orthodoxy that prevailed in Western culture for millennia -- until recently. Orthodox Jews and a Catholic remnant are its principal upholders today. The Episcopalians and other major Protestant denominations have surrendered and in many instances have become culture warriors themselves -- opposing what they once supported. It's the same for Jews of the "reformed" congregation, or of none.

Culture war issues cluster around sex, gender, and marriage. Monogamous marriage without divorce, without premarital sex, contraception, or abortion, is the standard under massive attack.

Recently the Family Research Council issued an "Index of Belonging and Rejection," based on 2008 Census data. It shows the percentage of American children who grow up in intact homes, with both birth mother and biological father legally married to one another until the child becomes a teenager.

Broken down by region and racial and ethnic groups, the figures are shocking. Nationwide, only 45 percent of youths grow up with both parents. For whites it's 54 percent. Blacks are down to 17 percent. Asian Americans are doing best, at 62 percent. The out-of-wedlock birthrate for blacks was 26 percent in 1965 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan identified the problem and was promptly accused of racism for his pains. Today the out-of-wedlock birthrate for blacks is 72 percent. It's 28 percent for whites and 40 percent for the nation as a whole. (The white illegitimacy rate was 3 percent in 1965.)

Do we wonder about the rise of Islam? Look no further than the catastrophic effects of the culture war in the Western world. Basically it's a war against God. Another front in this war is the legalization of assisted suicide.

We are living in the midst of a revolution that few want to talk about even though, if not reversed, it will spell the end of Western Civilization. Accompanying this revolution has been the collapse of fertility rates, especially in Europe. This demographic revolution, aided by contracep-tion and abortion, ensures that income transfer programs will not be sustainable for much longer -- perhaps no more than another 10 years in Europe. Only the immigration to the U.S. of more fertile Latinos has postponed (but has not averted) the same outcome here.

There is little discussion of these issues in the press. The Wall Street Journal keeps a weather eye out for approaching economic icebergs but has little to say about the culture war and its implications. But economy and culture can't be kept separate for long. When children grow up without fathers, taxpayers foot the bill, girls grow up to imitate their mothers, and the boys join gangs and in many cases go to prison.

As to blacks and other minority groups, the mutual rejection of parents "has become the new delivery system of disparities by race," says Pat Fagan of the Family Research Council. Their high school graduation rates are far lower; crime, addiction, incarceration, and mortality rates are higher. Class differences are perpetuated in the next generation and class solidifies into caste.

In Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, Kay Hymowitz reported that "it is largely low-income twenty-somethings who are having a baby without a wedding ring." The women forgoing husbands "are precisely the ones who can least afford to do so." She also said that "virtually all" children whose families earn more than $75,000 a year "are living with both parents."

The culture war presses on with undiminished zeal. The FRC's "Index" has not been reported by the major media, who focus obsessively on "the drop in teen births." It is not the age but the marital status of parents that matters-but try telling that to Rob Stein of the Washington Post.

FOR SOME YEARS, there has also been an organized pretense that male/female differences are more acculturated than real. With good training and propaganda it is imagined that such differences can be eliminated. Hence the push to house college students without regard to gender -- not just on the same dorm but in the same room. The earlier goal, to thrust women into combat, was similarly motivated.

The feminist ideologues will certainly fail in their campaign to homogenize gender. Male and female will remain starkly differentiated, as always. It's remarkable, though, that the attempt has been made, showing the fanaticism of the feminists. They have gone so far as to play into the hands of promiscuous men who have long embraced sex without consequences, otherwise known as the Playboy Philosophy. With a few exceptions, feminists have reinforced the sexual revolution rather than countered it. They see inequality of any description as an abomination and as something that must be stamped out.

Homosexual activists show a comparable fanaticism. They won't rest until their goal -- moral approval by the pope -- has been achieved. Feeble as the Catholic hierarchy has been since the Second Vatican Council, especially on sexual matters, such a surrender in Rome is not in the cards. The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" may itself have unintended consequences. Some of those who engage in homosexual activity fear being "outed" by other gays more than they fear "straight" disapproval. The pretense is that "openness" is the desideratum where gays are concerned, but the whole subject remains fraught with taboos. We'll see what happens. It may well be that not much will happen, as those urging DADT repeal have said. The inborn male-female attraction is so strong that those who do not experience it at all are few -- certainly far less than the touted 10 percent of the population. Homosexuals may well pose more of a threat to each other than to society at large.

The agenda of some culture warriors seems to be to apply the principle of consent to all human action. Exchange by consent -- goods for money, or goods for other goods -- is the great free-market principle, and the unstated social goal of non-socialists in the West now may be to reduce all relations to the principle of consent: divorce by consent (omitting the children of course, because they are likely to be under the age of consent); military service by consent, suicide by consent, sodomy by consent; abortion… well, wait a minute, that's unilateral because the little critter inside the womb isn't a human being yet so doesn't have to be consulted.

To the godless, all things may seem possible without God, but Western Civilization will not be possible. We'll get a different God, and Mohammed is his prophet.

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).